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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Poem For Our Times

A Poem for Our Time



Firstly, no rostrum or microphone

For poetry should be natural and so unofficial.

So, no standing under or behind banners

Erected for some minority group. No.


The poetic act, all poetry, is uniquely

Concerned about the individual, not the group.

Also, the voice of the poet should be heard

Naturally, so acoustics not electrics.


These two essential things to begin with.

Finally, though no least essentially,

Men, you need to write about your women


As this has always been a fundamental aspect

Of poetry, and do not worry about accusations

Of the ‘male gaze’, just trust only in your singular vision.


Friday, April 5, 2024

Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium and Beckett’s Novel Comment C’est How It Is





Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium

 And Beckett’s Novel

Comment C’est How It Is


One of the names that is often cited in respect to the works of Samuel Beckett is the Marquis de Sade, both Jean- Michel Rabaté and Danielle Casseli referenced Sade in connection with Beckett’s final attempt at the novel Comment C’est ( 1961) at the first How It Is Symposium organised by the theatre troupe Gare Saint Lazare Ireland at the Centre Culurel Irlandais, Paris, 2nd February, 2018[1].  Yet, it would appear that to refer only to Sade in relation to Beckett’s work is to leave out another very important figure, and yet one who is so often neglected and yet who is absolutely indispensable in the notion of power play which goes on in the celebrated author’s work. The figure I am referring to is of course none other than Leopold von Sacher- Masoch ( 1836- 1895). The Sado-Masochistic element in Comment C’est, however, far from being a titillating novel of domination and submission in the usual manner involving dungeons, latex and the inevitable Saint Andrew’s cross, although funnily enough Beckett does make playful use of the latter in the work rather, his novel invokes the philosophical ideas of Friedrich Hegel as outlined in The Phenomenology of Mind ( 1807), the discourse of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, involving the hermaphroditic giants who attempt to overthrow throw the gods and so were punished by being split in two by the gods ( Beckett makes great play of the term scissiparity in his novel), and I shall also be obliged to refer to Gilles Deleuze and his reading of Masoch in terms of the historical dimension. Finally, Michel Foucault’s ideas on the fluidity of power will also have to be invoked as well as Alan Badiou’s ideas on mathematics as ontology. As you can see, power play in Beckett is a thoroughly exhausting game. 

One of the most seminal discourses in contemporary western philosophy is the what is often referred to as the Master & Servant dialectic which features in Friedrich Hegel’s most celebrated text The Phenomenology of Mind ( 1802). I remember being an undergraduate and my professor at the time, who was German, and who was responsible for introducing us to the works of Hegel in my final year had warned me that if I did not stop reading Lacan she would fail me utterly. That was enough to get me to put the great rehabilitator of Freud back on the shelf and to get engage properly with the famous Hegelian dialtectic, and thank God that she did scare me into reading this phenomenal thinker even if it were just to have me read this singular text which had such a profound effect on Karl Marx ( 1818-1883) and so is, in a sense, the bedrock of communism so much so that Stalin ( 1878-1953) himself was to write his final dissertation on Hegel, all of which underscores this current reading of Comment c’est How It Is ( 1961- 63) written by Beckett over fifteen years after the second world war. Indeed, the ripple effect of such a short text, five pages approximately, are simply astonishing making it surely one of the most important texts in contemporary philosophy and crucial to having a proper understanding of the following text. straight

So, in a nutshell, Hegel’s master and servant dialectic is quite simple to grasp, really. This is its beauty. What it proposes is that when two humans meet, Hegel is concerned with human subjectivity from a phenomenological perspective – meaning he attempts to render the human experience as objectively as he possibly can, confined as he is to the straightjacket of his own human subjectivity which he believes can only be breached by annihilating the ego. Looking objectively then at two human subjects when they first encounter one another, Hegel proposes that immediately there is a battle to the death ensuing, present day advocates of WOKE take note, in terms of the will. We can see already the origins of Nietzsche famous ‘Will to Power’ doctrine here. And what immediately ensues, according to Hegel, is battle ensues. If it helps to conjure an image of two intrepid warriors of old, Achilles and Hector say, or in modern terms the Predator and the Alien! But, you must understand that Hegel is really only interested in geist or spirit, so these two analogies are really just symbolic. Fighting ensues between the two agents and in time there is a victor and a vanquished. Here is were it gets tricky, as there is a complicity between the two. Hegel describes it as a kind of co-dependence on the two whereby the servant, or lesser of the two, in an ironic twist is now somehow really the master as the actual master, through the formers servitude becomes dependent on the servant for all of the services that they provide that they are in turn rendered slavish in turn. It is an ingenious discourse, and the origins of socialism can clearly be apprehended in the core of its teaching.    

Enter Aristophanes and Plato! So, one of the most celebrated philosophical discourses in the western world is Plato’s Symposium and in which Socrates and his companions are discussing the subject of love and each gives their definition. But the one definition that is, without a doubt, the most memorable, and I say this simply as it has since entered into common discourse over the centuries and in many cultures and corresponding languages traces of this discourse remain and are even used still to define love today, which when you simply stop to think about that, for a minute, it really is quite extraordinary. But then the tale that Aristophanes is extraordinary, as when his turn comes to define love he talks about the tale that Homer first spoke about in relation to Otys and Ephialtes who were the ‘primeval humans’[2] and who were hermaphroditic and so could self-replicate and thus multiply, and they apparently did so in such numbers that they became wayward and decided to take on the Gods in Olympus. Aristophanes paints this incredible image of these round creatures, containing both aspects of man, so male and female conjoined, who climbed up upon each others shoulders forming a ladder up into the sky so that they were able to storm the heavens, which they did and so a war broke out between these all powerful hermaphroditic giants and Zeus and his assembled army of Gods.

When the battle finally was over and the Gods were victorious, Zeus held council with the other Gods in order to decide about what should happen to the rebellious giants who had tried to overturn them and this is what Zeus decided to do in the end. He decided to split each giant in two and hurl the male element far from the female so that the two halves would be forever apart from one another and so, Love, according to Aristophanes is when the two halves finally find one another again and they mate and they become once more whole. This is Love according to Aristophanes. It is an extraordinary account, but what makes it even more extraordinary is the fact how this myth has entered into popular culture and language. For example, in English there is a very common expression which both young and old people still use today in Dublin and other English speaking cities and that is the phrase ‘my other half’. And it is transgenerational, this is another extraordinary thing about this phenomenon as it is not just old people who use the expression but middle age people and young people do also, so this is living proof that this ancient myth rings true to people and has done for generations and generations throughout the ages of time. Of course, it is the task of writers to renew the tale or tell it again just as Aristophanes retold it after Homer. Well, this is one of the wonderful things that Samuel Beckett does in his novel Comment c’est / How It Is.

One of the most immediate signs in the text is the term scissiparity, it is actually used in the extraordinary collocation ‘latrinal scissiparious frenzy’[3], which is but part of a lexicon of terms that are surgical in origin. For example, ‘imbrication of the flesh’[4], ‘cleave’[5] and then phrases such as ‘bodies glued together[6]’, the text is full of such allusions to Aristophanes myth all of which I will come back to, but before I do that I should like to present an entire fragment from the text which will immediately situate us where we want to be. This particular segment is extracted from part 2 of the book, with Pim.


heads together necessarily my right shoulder overriding his left I’ve

the upper everywhere but how together like two old jades harnessed

together no but mine my head its face in the mud and his its right

cheek in the mud his mouth against my ear our hairs tangled togeth-

er impression that to separate us one would have to severe them good

so much for the bodies the arms the hands the heads[7]


So, here is what could be described as the first complete frieze from Plato’s symposium illustrating and quite graphically Aristophanes description of the primeval beings that were joined together as one whole and who were later separated by Zeus as a punishment so that they could never come together again and storm the heavens. Noticed the very clinic language Beckett uses- ‘harnessed together’, ‘to separate us one would have to sever them good’ – to severe, this is a very specific verb, and once again rather clinical. There is something of the operating table in all of this[8]imbuing the text with a gruesome realism which is rather reminiscent of the imagery of Francis Bacon[9]. Here now is a description of the creatures that Aristophanes describes in Plato’s Symposium.


the primeval humans were round, their backs

and sides forming a circle, and they had four hands and

four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways,

set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two

sets of genitals, and the remainder to correspond. [10]


Again, a very graphic description which helps the reader to visualise even more graphically these extraordinary creatures, and, once again, this tallies very much with the extremely graphic descriptions that Beckett uses of the couples in his modern retelling.


we are one and all from the unthinkable first to the

no less unthinkable last glued together in a vast imbrication of flesh

without breach or fissure[11]


The almost forensic use of very scientific terminology that Beckett employs matches in content the extremely rigorous reasoning of the formal method of thinking, which Giles Deleuze was to single out so markedly as such a distinctive element of his style and which he described as ‘a relentless Spinozism’[12]as Beckett exhausts every possible variable in every context, and, this, for Deleuze, is the most distinctive feature of Beckett’s style of writing. The way he flips from ‘the unthinkable first to the no less unthinkable last’ in such a reflexive and such a relentless manner is merely the rigorous application of a forensic method, so it makes perfect sense to insert very elevated topic specific vocabulary to formulate the very distinctive lexical sets which the substance of Aristophanes myth, surgical incision, suggests. Indeed, the only difference, really, between Plato’s text and Beckett’s is that Beckett simply multiplies the vision further into a kind of nuclear process of atomisation creating a very disturbing apocalyptic vision of humanity that makes Michelangelo’s vision of Hell in the Sistine Chapel appear like a mere cartoon.


at the instant Pim leaves me and goes towards the other Bem leaves

the other and comes towards me I place myself at my point of view

migration of slime- worms then or tailed latrinal scissiparous frenzy

days of great gaiety[13]

To be continued... 

[2] Jowett, Benjamin: Selected Dialogues of Plato, Translated by Benjamin Jowett Revised and with an Introduction by Hayden Pelliccia, The Modern Library, New York, 2000, p. 229.

[3] Beckett, Samuel: Comment C’est How It Is and / et L’image, A Critical-Genetic Edition Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edouard Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge, New York, First Paperback Edition 2016, p. 145.

[4] Ibid, p.185.

[5] Ibid, p.139.

[6] Ibid, p.117.

[7] Ibid, p. 119.

[8] It’s a rather curious thing but Eoin O’Brien when he is speaking about the town of Saint- Lô in Normandy, after the war, he writes how ‘it has a special significance in that it symbolises Beckett’s departure from Ireland and the severance of old ties and friendships.’ Beckett was working for the Irish Red Cross at the time as an ambulance driver and somewhat also playing the role of an interpreter, a point that I think is important in the context of the current discourse with its focus on medical terminology. There were 100 beds in the temporary hospital unit that was set up in what remained of the town after the terrible destruction of the battle for Normandy and Beckett would have been surrounded by both Doctors and Nurses during this time who would have been heavily involved. O’Brien states that ‘by Christmas 1945 the full Irish staff, consisting of ten doctors, each a specialist, 31 state-registered nurses, most of whom had specialist training, a pharmacist, pathologist and administrative staff, had arrived. By March 1946, 80 in-patients were receiving treatment, and over 120 patients attended an out- patient department.’ So, a considerable theatre of operations by any account, all of which would appear to be highly important in the context of the kind of language that Beckett is using in relation to the couples in Comment C’est How It Is.

O’Brien, Eoin: The Beckett Country, Samuel Becket’s Ireland , The Black Cat Press in association with Faber and Faber, Monkstown and London, 1986, p.327.  


[9] Bacon, like Beckett, in a curious parallel also was employed during the war in an official capacity, he was an air raid warden during the blitz and so would have also been privy to the sight of countless horrors that he had experienced also during the war.

[10] Jowett, Benjamin: Selected Dialogues of Plato, Translated by Benjamin Jowett Revised and with an Introduction by Hayden Pelliccia, The Modern Library, New York, 2000, p.229.

[11] Beckett, Samuel: Comment C’est How It Is and / et L’image, A Critical-Genetic Edition Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edouard Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge, New York, First Paperback Edition 2016, p.185.

[12] Deleuze, Giles: The Exhausted, Translated by Anthony Uhlmann, SubStance #78, 1995, p. 3.

[13] Beckett, Samuel: Comment C’est How It Is and / et L’image, A Critical-Genetic Edition Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edouard Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge, New York, First Paperback Edition 2016, p.145.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Extract from work in progress



Most People are Fucking Cunts


Most people are fucking cunts. That is the truth of the matter. I mean, instinctively, when someone approaches you in a public space what is your immediate reaction when they do? Do you sigh, internally, and think to yourself, “Now, what does this fucking cunt want?” or, do you smile with anticipation saying, “Now, who might this be?” 

If you are in the latter group, you are a naïve fucking cunt and I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re probably the kind of idiot that is all pervasive on social media apps like Face Fucking Buke!

You know those idiots that want to friend you and you have no idea who they possibly could be! Why would you do that, why in the name of god would you want to befriend and entire stranger who would then have access to all of your most private content, including most probably pictures of your family and friends?

Such is society today! I don’t get it. This shit could only have come out of the USA. Silicon Valley my ass! I was born in Cork in the Republic of Ireland in the late nineteen sixties so this means in extension that both my mother and father grew up under two arch cunts; namely Éamon de Valera and Bishop John Charles McQuaid.

Now, as you’re probably of that particular generation that grew up on purely visual images over overtly detailed written documentary evidence, why don’t you just Google those two names and go look at their visuals.

Tell me, what do you see? It’s all about the surface now baby, purely superficial superfluous informational content. Wouldn’t want a nice boy or girl like you now to start actually using the old grey cells. Why, that would almost be bordering on the almost criminal now, wouldn’t it! Thinking, now that’s a very dangerous exercise.

Take physiognomy, it used to be considered a science back in medieval times when basically what you saw in front of you – Facebook – was what you got. Just scroll down through them, all the thousands upon thousands of faces that you can see.

Go on scroll and scroll, the infinite loop that is what they call it, isn’t it! You can go on like that for infinity. Ingenious shit. Just go into any public space and they’re all at it. I remember about twenty or so years ago commuting into town and I remember very distinctly looking around one particular morning.

I was coming up on the DART from the southside. Back then I was living on the southside. Everyone had either hardbacks in the palm of their hands, not paperbacks, mind. Hardbacks! And they were not just sports biographies. You know, no they had history books, economic texts, political magazines, literary tracts, novels, and even poetry collections for God’s sake!

Now, everything is reversed. I’ve flipped to the northside, couldn’t handle all that middle class western aspirational bullshit, any longer. Now, I’m up here in a former Viking settlement founded back in the 8th or 9th century AD, and people on the commute are all doom scrolling on their fucking iPhones as if paper, not to mention books, never even existed!


Doom scrolling! It’s a fucking joke really as the world is literally going down the proverbial toilet bowl as I type, I mean literally! There are multiple wars and they are all somehow,  it would appear, related so that the world, in both the east and the west, would seem to be spiraling into an escalatory negative death drive, which is both extremely exciting and at the same time really bloody scary.

And, while all of this is going on… you have the whole WOKE thing still going on! I mean, it’s a fucking joke, the whole thing. On one side of the planet you have some poor bastard with a foot on his neck while someone else is slicing off his friggin’ ear, all LIVE – "Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!"

And then, in  another neck of the woods you have some pretentious asshole standing by a photocopier talking whole miles of horse shite about inclusion and inclusivity in the workforce and what s/he means by this is that s/he is actually standing on top of the heap looking down from their moral Olympus shitting in turn ten times of crap down on everyone else, and particularly if they have a fucking penis….!

To be continued 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024







“So, you have a penis protruding between your legs,

Which means I take it you want to fuck me, at some stage!

What an absolutely revolting idea, how primitive!

You know, I can self-fertilize, and have a “wand”


For the other thing. Good God, I gave up

Fornicating with fools like you long ago!

I got tired of telling you to drop the seat,

Or to pay attention to me when I was speaking!


Who needs the aggravation… Besides, now I have

Friends on all the committees. We’re in power now!

And you poor fools can just fuck off and


Consider your history, make amends.

Crawl back to the table, on our terms!

For you now have become the new minority!”



Sunday, March 24, 2024

de Vowels - poem




de Vowels



With the first look you cut me cleanly,

Both assailant and rescuer,

Haemorrhaging now into Life

Like the Mystical Rose.


I now a cult of One, the eternal Loser –

An alchemist of old seeing

Symbols littering the universe

Leading me only ever onto You!


Keeping relics, these fetishes,

After the great abandonment,

As proof positive of your actual presence.


Making offerings on sacred feast days,

Holding weekly masses,

Praying to you alone, inside the Walled Garden.



Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Chris Murray's latest collection Her Red Songs, reviewed by The Gombeen

Her Red Songs

Chris Murray

Turas Press

( 87 pages)


If we start with the title, we must always start with the title, these are songs! The poet would seem to be reminding us of the very intimate connection between poetry and song, which I would say has largely been lost when one considers the amount of prose, as opposed to prosody, which has slipped into contemporary “poetry” these days. The irony being that while I write this, I am finishing an almost year long study into the prosody of the seldom read French novelist Louis Ferdinand Céline whose poetic lineage goes back to chanson de geste and Le Roman de la Rose of Frech medieval poetry and which was to have such a profound influence on not only western literature but on western notions of chivalry and what we understand in a modern sense as romantic ‘Love’ today!

The second thing I should like to point out is the dedication to the poet Evan Boland ( 1944-2020). Chris Murray has been curating Poethead now, a website that is dedicated to publishing the work of women writers and poets, though I should also point out that she has also published the work of men. Feminist though Chris Murray obviously is, she is not, thankfully, a man hater. She is essentially a humanist and this is born out in every sense by the multi-dimensioned nature of her writing.

The first cycle of poems, for example, are named after the ancient Roman deities or gods that were known as Lares. In Roman times, rather like in places like India today, gods were everywhere. Domestic Gods, in short. There was the god of the kitchen that one prayed to or worshipped in order to help one with one’s culinary endeavours. There were the gods of the garden, dwelling in the wells and in the plants themselves so that despite being a pagan society spirits, and so spirituality, was everywhere and I think this is a very useful key into unlocking the very complex and delicate structure of this latest collection of poetry by Chris Murray.

As with her previous collections, the poems in Her Red Songs are delicate micro-structures yet which prove themselves to be remarkably robust, as well. Murray the poet has a background that is as complex and multi-dimensional as her poetry. Being at one time chorister, stone mason as well as poet, these very different experiences inform her work. I think the stone mason is ever present working behind the scenes, as it gives her incredibly delicate imagery, as Murray is essential an imagist, the stoney flintiness and robust inscriptive sonority to each piece.







Ferns, once


We awaken in our bodies,

their smooth hurt, winged.


The mourning dove awakens too,

her back to the city,


she curves into the rain.



There it is forever inscribed, the image! I can think of very few poets writing today in the English language who can imbue a poem in so few words with such power and force and yet with such incredibly delicacy. It is this twin act or power and delicacy, a Heraclitean element, that runs through not only the entire collection, but which also runs through the entire body of writing that Chris Murray has written to date. While I am on this point, when will a publisher in this country finally wake up and publish a selected works of this most remarkable poet, who has already several collections to choose work from to date. As there are recurring themes and techniques that readers who are familiar with the poet’s work will see in Her Red Songs, and if a selected works were to be brought into the light this very hallmark, the sign of a true poet, would be so readily seen.

For example, all of the rather curious punctuation typically involving colons : forward slashes // or even | or dashes - … all the very curious signs that Murray brings into her constructs are on display, indeed seem to take on an even more elaborate and altogether essential dimension in the work. Let me show you, here is another poem, complete.










Coda: Leaf // Settles


jewelling | nowhere

her    Garnets

tempering  |   scarlet

on     steel

sky –

a     Leaf




Friday, January 26, 2024

Rabelais & Céline and the Hippocratic Nature of Language

                                                            Lafayette House, Dublin. 





Rabelais & Céline

The Hippocratic Nature of Language

in D’un château l’autre


« Rabelais avait voulu faire passer la langue parlée

dans la langue écrit ; un échec. » [1]



 Two doctors and two writers and both of a prodigious nature and who also both came up against the authorities all their lives and often at great expense to their reputations and who both almost lost their lives[2]. But, asides from these two very important factors, in this chapter I will also be looking at the use of language which both writers use, their incredible invention and humour, particularly when they are addressing some of the issues of society that were troubling them and this is why both writers are described as being Hippocratic, as by describing the madness of the world which surrounded them this was a way for both men to literally keep sane themselves and in turn to help to keep their readers mental health in order. In the case of Céline, during the historically circumstances that he now found himself sequestered with the remnants of the Vichy government in the medieval castle of Sigmaringen, humour is really the last resort. I shall be particularly focusing on the final section of D’un Château l’autre when the occupants of the castle, in order to keep up morale, are preparing to hold a festival for ‘La reprise des Ardennes…[3]’The irony for Céline, having fled France as he was receiving death threats for apparently collaborating with the Germans, is that he now finds himself at the end of the war in a mediaeval castle with the collaborationist government who will choose to believe anything rather than the allied victory which is certain, and which Céline is well aware of. Not only must he confront his own past, which brings him to his current predicament, but also that of his country and that of Europe’s. Sigmaringen is a medieval castle and so it is a physical manifestation of a world that Rabelais would have known. All his life, Rabelais sought refuge in similar structures from the noble people of his time due to his ‘heretical’ stance. Finally, just as I will later be examining the role of music in the further two instalments of the trilogy, ( Erlkönig by Schubert in Nord and Polonaise in G minor by Chopin and Piano Sonata No. 23 Apassionata by Beethoven in Rigodon ) in D’un château l’autre I will be looking at the role that Wagner plays and in particular the famous Ritt der Walküren[4].  

One of the fundamental literary tropes that both Rabelais and Céline share are and indeed are staple of epic poetry since ancient times are lists. Both writers use lists to great comic literary effect as a very simple and effective way of demonstrating their literary prowess and powers of invention. In D’un château l’autre, as in all his novels, Céline uses them to great comic effect. For example, when Ferdinand Brinon, modelled on the same Brinon who presided over the Vichy government commission who were housed by the Nazis in the ancient castle of Sigmaringen during the last months of the war, informs Céline that he has been condemned to death by the “Comité de Plauen!” back home in now recently liberated Paris, Céline, typically, goes into a tirade about all the supposed horrors he has committed. It is a hallmark of his style, and it is also one of the aspects of his writing that readers of Céline deeply enjoy as they know that Céline will use the occasion to become as inventive as he possibly can, typically trying to outdo himself in playful derision of his enemies, who are legion. Here is his response to the news from France.


…s’il y a quelque chose de fastidieux c’est

les « terrible accusations »…rabâchis pires que les amours !...

je vois encore plus tard, en prison, au Danemark…et par

l’Ambassade de France…et par les journaux scandinaves…

pas de mal à la tête !...simplement : « le monstre et vendu

le pire de plus pire ! qui dépasse les mots !...que la plume

éclate !... » sempiternels forfaits de monstre : vendeur de

ceci ! de cela ! tout la Ligne Maginot ! les caleçons

des troupes et cacas ! généraux avec ! toute la flotte, le rade

de Toulon ! le goulot de Brest ! les bouée et les mines !...

grand bazardeur de la Patrie ! question des « collabos »

féroce ou « fifis » atroces épurateurs de ci…de ca..[5]


This is hallmark or signature of Rabelais also, and Céline, in this sense, is really his true inheritor. Let us take a passage or two from Pantagruel just to show exactly what I mean. I have decided to take two passages from chapter eight in which Rabelais wishes to demonstrate why the codpiece, or ‘braguette’, is the most important piece of equipment for soldiers, or men of war. So, to begin, while first introducing the subject, Rabelais makes the point that as with all things, man is inspired by nature first and he wishes to first demonstrate how in the natural world plants are suitably protected or fortified against the natural elements so that they can propagate, and in order to this he lists out numerous examples.



comment nature voulent les plantes, arbres, arbrif-

feaulx, herbes, & Zoophytes vne tois par elle créez,

perpétuer & durer en toute fucceffion de temps,

fans iamais deperir les eípeces, encores que les ind-

uiduz periffent, curieufement arma leurs germes &

femences, es quelles confifte icelle perpetuité, & les

a muniz & couuers par admirable induftrie de

gouffes, vagines, teftz, noyaulx, calicules, coques,

efpiz, pappes, efcorces, echines poignans : qui leurs

font comme belles & fortes braguette naturelle.[6]


Comparatists typically would point out the ‘horizon of expectation’ that such lists invoke in the mind of the reader, in other words the reader knows what is coming ahead, and this phenomenon builds up in the reader a form of confidence that they now share with the author. In other words, a bond or implicit pact between the reader and the author has been forged because of the inclusion of such literary tropes, and this can simply be attributed to the reader’s inherent respect for the poetic art or craft of the writer. Such technical accomplishments are always deeply prized by the reading public, and it is a testament to the ever- pervading character of the human mind, how in a sense it is forever unchanging in terms of structural underpinnings, or tropes. As just as Céline, in a sense, is taking up the baton from Rabelais, Rabelais himself, who very much prized his classical education, is merely aping or parroting the stylistic tropes of Homer[7]


These, these were the captains of Achaea and the kings.

Now tell me muse, who were the bravest of them all,

of the men and chariot-teams that came with Atreus’ sons?


The best by far of the teams were Eumelus’s mares

and Phere’s grandson drove them – swift as birds,

matched in age and their glossy coats and matched

to a builder’s level flat across their backs.

Phoebus Apollo lord of the silver bow

had bred them both in Perea, a brace of mares

that raced the War -god’s panic through the lines.[8] 

Before I go on, I should, at this stage, like to refer to the North American poet T. S. Eliot who I have been going back to again and again since I first picked up his poetry when I was a very young man in the nineteen eighties, and so who I have been reading for now for over a period of four decades…I will always remember reading his short essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, the date that I have scribbled inside the flyleaf of the book, as is my habit when I purchase a book that I have need of, is 2003, so I have been going back to this particular text for over two decades now, but I recall reading it first in a library book when I was much younger. Let me just give you the quotation by Eliot himself on tradition, as it is still a quote that resonates[9].


Tradition is a matter of much wider significance.

It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain

it by great labour. It involves in the first place, the historical

sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone

who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty fifth year;[10]


Returning to Céline now and the influence of Rabelais and particularly in the context of D’un château l’autre, after having examined the first two sections of the novel beginning in Meudon in the fifties; when Céline is writing the novel after his return to France having left in fear of his life and now very much keeping a low profile under still a cloud of disgrace; to the train station and streets around Sigmaringen where Céline describes particularly the horrendous possibility of rape for countless women and the sporadic and often random nature of death for countless civilians due to the indiscriminate carpet bombing by the approaching allies; to the final section in the novel which very much takes place inside the castle itself as the occupants, in order to keep their spirits up start planning to have a festival to celebrate the future victory of the newly reformed SS panzer divisions, recently redeployed from the eastern front, and the Wehrmacht in the Ardennes. In order to situate us better historically, before returning to Céline in the medieval castle of Sigmaringen, I should like to first refer to Antony Beevor’s image of Hitler who was also sequestered in a medieval castle during this time preparing to address the assembled gathering.


Late that afternoon, buses brought divisional commanders to the

Alderhorst to be addressed by Hitler. Each officer was searched by SS

guards and had to surrender his pistol and briefcase. At 18:00 hours,

Hitler limped on to the stage. Generals who had not seen him for some

time were shocked by his physical deterioration, with pallid face, droop-

ing shoulders and one arm which shook. Flanked by Keitel and Jodl, he

sat behind a table.[11]


The vision that Beevor presents is nothing less than Gothic[12], and I think this is very useful to see before we now turn our attention to the events which Céline is about to recount as I think it is very easy to forget how absolutely mad, insane is perhaps a better term being more clinical, a lot of the events were in Europe at the time, mad, at least, in the very real medical sense of the term.

Je laisse Lili à travailler, répéter ses danses avec le

couple Delaunys, ses numéros pour la Fête…il s’agit

plus de plaisanter…à fond « ça va de soi » !...cha-

connes, passe-pieds, rigodons !...un moment y a plus

que de sérieux…pas faire basculer la marmite !...que

vous verriez plus que les diables ! la « Reprise des

Ardennes ? »…certainement ! tous les Ambassadeurs y

seront !...bien sûr !...le triomphe de l’Armée Rundstedt ?

ah là là ! Triomphe, c’est peu dire ! [13]


Céline loved dance, so much so he married a dancer. Lucette Destouches, who is Lili in the novels, was a dancer and the way Céline describes her in the passage above contains some of the fundamental elements of dance amongst them being discipline, rhythm and cadence. It is coming back to his qualities as a musician.[14]


Je laisse Lili à travailler,

répéter ses danses avec le couple Delaunys,


This is a rhyming couplet, almost in iambic pentameter.


ses numéros pour la Fête…

ils s’agit plus de plaisanter…

à fond « ça va de soi » !...

chaconnes, passe pieds, rigodons !...


And it goes on and on…Céline’s ‘petite musique’. Content dictates form; Céline is writing about a dancer, and so the music dances! This is James Joyce, language is the thing not merely representation and the two writers have so much in common, in this sense. Of course, the further association with Rabelais is another. Joyce too was a great admirer, he too had his innumerable lists. But Joyce too was a music lover, particularly of Italian opera and he was considered, in his say, to be a very fine tenor.[15]

But it is not Italian opera that I want to focus on here but rather German, Wagner’s Valkyrie to be more precise as it is the piece of music that Abetz, Chateaubriand and Hoffman are discussing with Céline as the ideal piece of music to celebrate ‘le triomphe de l’Armée Rundstedt’. This is a reference to the Ardennes offensive which was to prove so disastrous to the German army. All of his generals said it was madness, but Hitler had long ago ceased to listen to them, much to the delight of the Allied generals. In the novel D’un château l’autre, this chapter is critical as it shows the full farce of the situation that Céline, the antisemitic collaborationist author, now found himself in holed up in a Germanic castle, dating from medieval times, with the entire Vichy government which the Nazis had installed there. Abetz is of course the German Ambassador to France who Céline met previously in Paris during the occupation and these meeting were recorded as there is testimony to them. In fact, the writer Alphonse Châteaubriand, who actually was a collaborator with the Germans, was in the company of the Ambassador and Céline in the Café de la Paix in Paris for a reception given by a Japanese newspaper and Céline, who happened to be dressed like a tramp, was overheard asking a German colonel what month the Wehrmacht would they loose the war[16]. So, the accusations that Céline was a collaborator simply do not fully stack up, anyone who has read the German Trilogy could tell you that as the majority of the time in the three novels Céline is simply being quite satirical about the whole Nazi debacle that he witnesses and the scene with Abetz, Chateaubriand and Hoffmann is typical of the humour of the trilogy.


Abetz, je le connaissais vrai-

ment tré peu…nous étions pas en sympathie…cer-

tainement rien à nous dire…on les voyait guère qu’en-

touré de « clients »…courtisans…clients-courtisans

de toutes les Cours !...les mêmes ou leurs frères…vous

pouvez aller chez Mendès…Churchill, Nasser ou

Krouchtchez…les mêmes ou leurs frères ! Versailles,

Kremlin, Vel’d’Hiv, Salle des Ventes…chez Laval !

de Gaulle !...vous pensez !...éminence grises, voyous,

verreux, Académistes ou Tiers État, pluri-sexués,

rigoristes ou proxénétistes, bouffeurs de croûtons ou

d’hosties, vous les verrez toujours sibylles, toujours [17]


The style is always slightly mocking and the lists, Rabelaisian, all help with the flow of the language making it light and comical, and of course Céline, as it is also his custom to do, uses the momentum to build the scene up into a kind of a delirium which transports the reader also. This is the main hallmark of Céline, commentators have often remarked about it, the delirium that he manages to build up in his books, or indeed in the pamphlets. This is what carries the readers away, and of course such kind of artistry took Céline an inordinate amount of time to write, as he was always saying. It is simply staggering to think about how he actually found the time to write all of the novels that he did, ten in total, not to mention all of the other texts and letters, he really was one of the most prolific writers, and of course there is something Rabelaisian in this also, the almost gargantuan appetite that Céline had for not only writing but also living!


Je vous éloigne de Siegmaringen[18]…puzzle que ma

tête !... je vous parlais de la rue à Siegmaringen…des

schuppos…mais pas que des schuppos !...des militaires

de toutes les armes et de tout les grades…refoulés

de la gare…grands blessés de régiments dissous…

unités des divisions souabes, magyar, saxonnes, hachées

en Russie…les cadres on ne sait d’où !...officiers d’armées

de Balkans à la recherche de leurs généraux…plus

sachant…ce que vous avez vu ici même, pendant le

grand « rally-culotte » I’Escaut-Bayonne…les colonels

plus sachant!...Soubises sans lanternes…vous les voyez

devant les vitrines comme cherchant quelqu’un à l’in-

térieur…faisant semblant…  [19]


Of course, the fact that all of the action is taking place in a medieval castle which was around in Rabelais’s time, Rabelais like Céline had to go into hiding due to his heretical thinking and was offered protection by Jean du Bellay, a nobleman, and Rabelais is typically associated with La tour Rabelais in the Abbey of Saint-Maur in the suburbs of Paris among other domiciles.[20]


“Docteur, s’il vous plait!...voulez-vous venir au

Château, demain soir ?...diner ? avec Hoffmann ? sans

façon !...entre nous !...

-Certainement, Monsieur Abetz ! »[21]



The humour here is clearly evident, the way Céline mocks the elevated tones and decorum of the denizens of Sigmaringen, while war rages all about and the very foundations of their society are being blown, literally, into a hundred thousand pieces. Yet, the Ambassador and his entourage are behaving with all of the graces of petit bourgeois society, and of course this is what Céline, in his writing, was at war with all his life.


Là, à table, je regardais Abetz, il jouait avec sa ser-

viette…un homme replet, bien rasé…il remangerait

quand je serait parti !...oh, pas ce qu’on nous servait

là juste ! radis sans beurre, porridge sans lait ! péro-

rait pour ce que je l’écoute et que je répète…pour ça

qu’il m’avait invité !...on nous sert un rond de saucis-

son, un rond chacun…alors mon Dieu, qu’on s’amuse !...[22]


Céline’s comic timing is simply exquisite, apparently he was very good company in real life and enjoyed making people laugh, a lot. We can well believe it, as his sense of humour is simply deliriously funny[23]. And, this is very much Céline fulfilling his role as chronicler, ‘chroniqueur fidèle’[24].

“ Que ferez-vous Monsieur Abetz quand l’Armée

Leclerc sera ici ? Á Siegmaringen ? ici-même !...

au Châteaux ? »

Ma question les trouble pas…ni Hoffmann ni lui,

Ils y avaient pensé…[25]


And now we are right at the heart of the matter, Nazi fanaticism. Now, it is routinely the stuff of comedians, one immediately thinks of John Cleese’s performance in the popular TV program Faulty Towers, for example, when some German tourists stay at the hotel and all of the ridiculous comedy ensues.[26] In D’un château l’autre, Céline’s comic genius is such that he stages a ‘human comedy’ in the grand style of Balzac before him and Dante before him, chronicling the nightmarish events of WW2, yet doing so with the most madcap sense of humour. I can only think of one other writer who did something similar and that is Joseph Heller in Catch 22, again a book based on Heller’s own experiences in the American army based in Italy during the war. But, once again, Céline goes one better as he is chronicling the war as seen from the point of view of an ordinary citizen, not from the perspective of the military.

“Mais nous avons en Forêt Noire des hommes abso-

lument dévoués ! Monsieur Céline !... notre maquis

brun !...[27]


The comedy which is at work here is the apparent blindness or sheer stupidity of the characters involved, blinded by their fate in Nazi ideology.


-       Oh certainment, Monsieur Abetz!”[28]


Céline speaks to the man as if he were talking to a child, and the reader is in on it. As pure spectator. Céline’s dramatic sense of genius is to put the reader right there in the castle with the German Ambassador to France and to give them a bird’s eye view into the madness that ensues.


-       Comprenez- moi mon cher Céline ! avec quelque

compagnons «  de choc », nous avons choisi notre

endroit !... oh j’ai connu d’autres épreuves ! »

Il se recueille…trois très énormes profonds soupirs !...

et il reprend…

« Un endroit, une vallée absolument inaccessible,

très étroit, un Cirque nous dirons, entre trois som-

mets…au fond du Tyrol ! là ! là Céline !...

nous nous isolons !...vous me comprenez ?...nous nous

concentrons !...nous mettons au point notre bombe ! »[29]   


And just when you think the madness cannot get any worse, it does!


“Avec quoi votre bombe?


-       Oh cher Hoffmann!... pas un bombe d’acier

ni dynamite !... mille fois non !...une bombe de concentra-

tion ! de fois ! Hoffmann ![30]


The fact that Céline is a doctor and so is using, clearly, his best bedside manner as he talks to this lunatic merely adds to the sense of delirium, as his manner, one of reason, contrasts so strongly with the almost insane babblings of the Ambassador. But it does not stop here, it is only starting. The delirium continues…


C’est à ce moment-là, je ne sais pourquoi, qu’ils se

sont mis à ne plus s’entendre…Chateaubriand réfléchis-

sait…Abetz aussi…Hoffmann aussi…je disais rien…

Chateaubriand rompt le silence…il a une idée !...

« Vous ne trouvez pas mon cher Abetz que pour un

tel événement ? L’Opéra de Berlin ? l’Opéra de Paris ?

les deux orchestres ?

-       Certainement ! certainement mon cher !

-La Chevauchée des Walkyries ! le seul air ! oh,

le seul air ! oh, le seul air ! celui-là ! »[31]




In the previous three chapters, I have looked at various aspects of Céline’s style in the first novel in the German Trilogy D’un château l’autre and I have also looked at Yannick Gomez’s study on Céline and Beethoven and the extent to which music plays such a significant role in the author’s writing. So far, the popular song Lili Marlene made so famous by Marlene Dietrich and just now Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyrie made so famous by Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalpse Now ( 1979). But, as we continue into the trilogy, we will see that this is but the start of the importance that music will play in Louis Ferdinand Céline’s writing, as in Nord, the central novel and the most voluminous, Céline uses the famous lieder Erlkönig by Franz Schubert to great dramatic effect, and then again in Rigodon, the final third instalment, a polonaise by Chopin is evoked in order to simulate the firestorm created by the bombing of Hanover which Céline actually witnessed in March, 1944.    

[1] Rabelais, Il a Raté son Coup, Louis Ferdinand Céline, Entretien


[2] Louis Ferdinand Céline was actually incarcerated for almost two years in a Danish prison on the charge of collaborating with the Nazi regime, charges which he always fundamentally rejected and which he was eventually acquitted of in a French military court allowing him to return home to his native France after years of exile. Céline himself was convinced that the real reason for his imprisonment was all down to petty jealousy coming from left wing figures like Jean Paul Sartre, who had their own personal agendas and which there is some truth to his accusations and which rather reminiscent of the kinds of witch hunts that are going on today against many scientific members of the academic community who, like Céline, have gone against the driving ideologies that have infested our universities. Likewise, Rabelais was also persecuted all his adult life by religious groups, be it the Sorbonne, which was a theological college during his time, or the puritanical Calvinists who were gaining a stranglehold of mainly northern countries but also had power in France. The parallels with what is happening today are simply dumbfounding.

[3] Céline, Louis Ferdinand : Céline Romans ii, D’un Château l’autre, Nord, Rigodon, Édition Présentée, Établie, et Annotée par Henri Godard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2016, p.219.

[4] Music plays an incredibly important role in the writing of Céline, he often referred to his writing as his ‘petite musique’. My own recent reading of the novelist has been highly influenced by Yannick Gomez whose recent study D’un musicien l’autre, de Céline à Beethoven ( La Nouvelle Librairie, 2023) helped me to appreciate to what degree music plays a role in the writings of this formidable, misunderstood and highly controversial writer.  

[5] Céline,  Louis Ferdinand: D’un château l’autre, Collection Blanche, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 1981, pp. 156,157.  

[6] Rabelais, Francois: Pantagruel, LES ŒVVRES de Maiftre Francois Rabelais, Tome deuxième, Alphonse Lemere, Éditeur, Paris, M. DCCC. LXX., p.45.

[7] A note here on so called ‘critical reading of texts’ in terms of the ‘Other’, I am referring now to the very mass of ‘so called’ critical readings of texts with respect to ‘minority groups’; in other words LGBT, BLM, Feminist Theory, Queer Readings, etc, etc…It is very simple, either you accept a literary tradition as you would a linguistic inheritance and all of the grammatical rulings that go with it, or,  you do not! Us Irish have been dealing with post-colonialism and all of the subsequent trauma, either identified or otherwise, since the day that we were delivered unto this cruel earth… Deal with it! 

[8] Homer: The Illiad, Translated by Robert Fagles, Introduction and Notes by Bernard Fox, Penguin Classics, London, 1990, 124.

[9] On a more personal note, I will be fifty- seven this year and I have been writing poetry since the mid-1980s. My first full-length collection was published in 2015, and since then I have had ten books published, again, mainly poetry. This current book on Céline is all part of it, it is research that I am doing into the novel as I am currently working on my second novel. It is part of my ongoing literary research that first started with Samuel Beckett and which led onto my translations of Baudelaire, both ongoing projects that I have been engaged on since I did my post-graduate studies over ten years ago. Personally, I couldn’t afford a doctorate so I have been working as an independent scholar now for over the last decade, presenting papers at conferences whenever I can get an opportunity, but it is all, all of this research, it is all done for but one purpose, and that is to strive to attain some level of excellence in the craft and art of writing, be it novels, poems, or indeed, literary essays! I think it is important to state all of this as a practitioner, as that is what I am. Although, I have an academic background or training, I am not an academic but rather a writer who uses academic research to further my own literary output and I think it is very important for me to state this here as there is, in my opinion, a real lack of academic rigour in the written arts these days, particularly poetry and this is mainly due to the thoroughly appalling ideology which has been promoted in the arts and in so called academic sectors and which promotes individuals in minority groups as opposed to pursuing artistic excellence. This of course has been a complete disaster for the arts, and in particular poetry.    


[10] Eliot, T.S.: The Sacred Wood, Essays on Poetry and Criticism, Faber and Faber, London, 1997, p.40.

[11] Beevor, Antony: Ardennes 1944, Hitler’s Last Gamble, Viking, Penguin Books, First publication, 2015, p.95.

[12] Kransberg Castle dates from the 12th century, it was appropriated by the Nazis in 1939 and Albert Speer built the Adelhorst bunker and command headquarters where Hitler staged the meeting before the Battle of the Bulge.

[13] Céline, Louis Ferdinand : Céline Romans ii, D’un Château l’autre, Nord, Rigodon, Édition Présentée, Établie, et Annotée par Henri Godard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2016, p.224.

[14] « Je suis musicien de langue. » ( give reference !)

[15] References to music and Rabelaisian use of language abound in Finnegans Wake.

‘But, thunder and turf, its not alover yet. One recalls Byzantium. The mystery repeats itself todate as our callback mother Gaudyanna, that was daughter to a tanner, used to sing, as I think, now and then consinuously once her possetpot in her querhomolocous humminbass hesterdie and istherdie forivor.’

Joyce, James: Finnegans Wake, With an Introduction by Len Platt, Wordsworth Classics, London, pp. 294-295.

[16] Vitoux, Frédéric : La vie de Céline, Collection Folio, Gallimard, Paris, 2004, pp. 645-646.

[18] Note the very Joycean play on words ‘Siegmaringen’ with the Nazi Sieg, as in “Sieg Heil!” as opposed to Sigmaringen, the actual name of the castle.

[19] Céline, Louis Ferdinand : Céline Romans ii, D’un Château l’autre, Nord, Rigodon, Édition Présentée, Établie, et Annotée par Henri Godard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2016, pp.225 – 226.


[20] Just thinking about the similarities between Céline and Rabelais, I jotted down the following: both doctors, persecuted, prodigious inventors of language, stylists, anarchic, both wrote under pseudonyms ( Rabelais published under the name of Alcofribas Nasier), both were extremely popular in their own lifetime, both used extremely vulgar language and slang, and both were anti-academic.   

[21] Ibid, p.226.

[23] Samuel Beckett, another great comic stylist of the 20th century, in his novel Watt, which he wrote during WW2, in Languedoc. The parallels between both writers, Céline and Beckett, particularly when looking at their experiences during the war are simply fascinating; Celine the antisemite apparent ‘collabo’ and Beckett the Irish expat resistance member who flew Paris to the south of France in fear of arrest by the Gestapo…

What I wanted to show here was this fragment on laughter.

Where were we. The bitter, the hollow and – Haw! Haw! – the mirthless. The bitter laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethical laugh. The hollow laugh laughs at that which is not true, it is the intellectual laugh. Not good! Not true! Well well. But the mirthless laugh is the dianoetic laugh, down the snout – Haw! – so. It is the laugh of laughs, the risus puris, the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs – silence please – at that which is unhappy.

Beckett, Samuel: Watt, Grove Press, New York, No Date of Publication given.  


[25] Céline, Louis Ferdinand : Céline Romans ii, D’un Château l’autre, Nord, Rigodon, Édition Présentée, Établie, et Annotée par Henri Godard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2016, p, 227.

[26] « Don’t mention the war. » becomes the watchword for Cleese’s character.

[27] Ibid, p.227.

[28] Ibid, p.227.

[29] Céline, Louis Ferdinand : Céline Romans ii, D’un Château l’autre, Nord, Rigodon, Édition Présentée, Établie, et Annotée par Henri Godard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Éditions Gallimard, Paris, 2016, p, 230.

[30] Ibid, p.231.

[31] Ibid, p. 231.